Cover of the NES port released in 1992
Dropzone is a shoot 'em up video game developed by Archer Maclean (under the name Arena Graphics) and published in 1984 by U.S. Gold. It was released for the Atari 8-bit family and Commodore 64, then later ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy, Game Gear and Game Boy Color. It was Maclean's first commercial game.
On the surface of Jupiter's moon, Io, a human scientific research base is under attack by aliens. The player dons a jetpack armed with a laser, a cloaking device and three smart bombs, to rescue the scientists and return them to the base.
The gameplay is much in the style of Defender, as well as Stargate, Scramble and even Robotron: 2084. Players control the hero trying to rescue the scientists on a horizontally side-scrolling game field. Players must elude or engage various aliens—some slow, others faster—and return the scientists to the base's eponymous dropzone. The aliens capture scientists walking along the ground. The player must shoot the enemy aliens and catch the falling scientists. Sometimes the aliens will carry lethal androids instead, which must be avoided.
The ranks awarded to players at the end of a game are (in order):
- Not Listed - practice recommended
- Dextral Dodger
- Moon Cadet
- Planet Marshal
- Planet Lord
- Star Warrior
- Solar Prodigy
- Megastar - mission completed
There are 99 levels of gameplay, each increasingly more difficult. After level 99, the levels repeat starting level 95.
MacLean purchased an Atari 800 as soon as they were officially launched in the UK in 1981 and started writing what would eventually evolve into Dropzone. The game would be released for the Atari by US Gold in 1984. It was then converted to the Commodore 64 by MacLean himself. Of the C64 version of the game, MacLean said:
|“||The [Commodore] 64 Dropzone is about 46k [kilobytes] long and consists of 15,000 lines of sparsely commented code with around 350 subroutines and around 3000 labels. Those who can reach Megastar status on the 64 should have had enough practice to attempt an Atari supervised Dropzone mission. The Atari, being the Porsche of home computers, is capable of running Dropzone 2.5 times faster than the 64 and can handle any amount of blobs on screen, even when you release a Strata Bomb. It is visually, sonically etc., identical and about 12K shorter. However, the 64 is still a respectable BMW316.||”|
The name Dropzone was not settled on until shortly before the game went gold.
MacLean entered into a publishing deal with U.S. Gold for the European distribution of the game. After 18 months, however, they stopped paying him royalties claiming that the game was no longer selling (in reality, the game kept selling for five to six years). In addition, MacLean travelled a great deal and saw it for sale in areas outside of Europe and even in the United States. After seeking legal advice, four years of legal wrangling with the publisher followed, until they finally settled out of court for copyright infringement. With the proceeds from the settlement, MacLean bought his first Ferrari.
The sequel, Super Dropzone, added new weapon types and end-level bosses. It is available for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (titled 'Super Dropzone' on all packaging, but only 'Dropzone' on the title screen), Game Boy Advance and PlayStation. Only the Game Boy Advance version saw a North American release, the others were European exclusives.
- "The making of... Dropzone", Edge, December 2006, archived from the original on 2007-02-21
- "Archer MacLean interview". Halcyon Days.
- Dropzone at MobyGames
- Defender at the Killer List of Videogames
- "Zzap!64 Tips Dropzone: An Explanation and Survival Tactics", Zzap!64 (5): 78–79, September 1985
- "Dropzone Review", Zzap!64 (5): 18–19, July 1985